Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Addressing Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my airm.

Address to a Haggis - Robert Burns

I don't remember when I first heard of Haggis but I do remember when I first learned what was in it. At the time it didn't sound appetizing at all. Now, years later, I find myself much more open minded and glad of it.

So, let us address the curious dish known as Haggis. This ancient meal is traditionally made with sheep's "pluck", or the heart, lungs, and liver mixed with the trimmings from the sheep, oatmeal and spices. This makes for a rich and savory pudding that is then steamed or boiled before being served. 

My first taste of this old world dish was at a "Burns Night Supper" in "The King's Arms" in Polebrook, England. My introduction began as it should, with Burns's "Address to a Haggis" given by a Scotsman who, true to the spirit of the poem, thrust the blade into the pudding with great enthusiasm making the delicious contents spill out ready to be spooned onto the waiting plates of the diners. This, served with Neps and Tatties and Cock a Leekie Soup, completed the night's fare. It was delicious and since then I have enjoyed reproducing parts of the meal but I'd never before attempted the centerpiece. The Haggis.

This year I felt inspired. I already had my Neps (turnips) and Tatties (potatoes) for Burn's night (January 25th) when an acquaintance clued me in on where to lay my hands on some ground lamb.  True Haggis cannot be sold in the US because of the inclusion of the sheep's lung. So unless you raise it yourself or are close friends with a farmer you are unlikely to have all the "pluck" close at hand. You may be able to get the heart, liver, tongue and stomach but if not, never fear. Traditionally Haggis is cooked in the stomach but again this was not something I had access to. That said, enough of what I didn't have lets get on to what I had and how you can use it to make your own "Mock Haggis". The recipe I used as a base was a traditional Scottish recipe published by BBC Food. I tried to stay as close to the original as possible.

Mock Haggis

1/2 lb (8oz) ground lamb 
1/2 lb (8oz) liver (beef or sheep)
2 oz shredded suet or vegetable shortening (suet will provide better flavor)
1 onion, finely chopped
4 oz oatmeal, toasted
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground dried coriander
1/2 tsp mace
1/2 tsp nutmeg
some water (approximately 1/2 - 1 cup)

Other Items You May Need:

Sausage casing or parchment paper
Steaming insert


In a dry pan toast the oatmeal until is is lightly browned, remove from the heat. In a medium saucepan boil the liver for about 5 minutes then remove from the water and set aside to cool. Do not discard the water. Finely chop the onion and in a large bowl, combine with the ground lamb, oatmeal, spices and shredded shortening. Finely dice the liver and add to the meat mixture with some of the water used to boil it. This mixture should be moist but not wet and you should be able to easily shape it. If you have sausage casings this is where you would place the mixture in the casings and seal as directed by the package instructions. I did not have casings so I lightly greased a piece of parchment paper with shortening, placed the haggis mixture on the paper and rolled it like a candy twisting the ends tightly. Then I placed this package on a piece of tinfoil and settled it on my steaming insert in a tall stock pot. Make sure to add enough water to the pot to reach the bottom of the steamer and steam, covered, for 3 hours. Check water level periodically adding water as needed. After 3 hours remove the Haggis carefully from the steamer and serve. I stayed with the tradition of Neps and Tatties and served mine with mashed potatoes, roasted and mashed turnips and an onion gravy.

Whether you have had Haggis dozens of times or are giving it a try for the first time I think you'll find this recipe delicious and a fair representation of the dish in spite of the substitution of many of the authentic ingredients. So be brave and take a shot at it, you'll be glad you did!

The Haggis Wrapped in Parchment Paper

The Steamer

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